The Heretic Jew

Harold Bloom in The New York Times:

‘Betraying Spinoza,’ by Rebecca Goldstein.

Spinoza_1 The German and English Romantics (Shelley aside) got Spinoza wrong. Reading his superbly cryptic masterwork, the “Ethics,” I find myself agreeing with Strauss that Spinoza pragmatically was an Epicurean materialist. As in Epicurus and Lucretius, Spinoza’s God is scarcely distinguishable from Nature, and is altogether indifferent to us, even to our intellectual love for him as urged upon us by Spinoza. Many Americans are persuaded that God loves each of them, personally and individually. Is that our blessing, in this era of George W. Bush, or is it not the American malaise, partly productive of the daily slaughters on the streets of Baghdad? A transfusion of Spinoza into our religion-mad nation could only be a good thing.

More here.

On What the Liberal Answer to Terrorism and Iraq Should Be

A discussion/debate between Katrina vanden Heuvel and John Ikenberry on what the liberal response to terrorism and the war should be. Ikenberry:

One group [of liberals] is what she calls the “beltway crusaders” – center-right Democrats who want to wage a global battle against jihadism and Islamic fascism, updating and recreating the liberal anti-communism of the Truman and Kennedy years. These folks essentially buy the Bush administration’s argument that jihadist terrorism is the overriding security threat facing America. The challenge for Democrats is to convince the public that they can do a better job of waging this global struggle…What is the other side of this liberal debate — and is there any hope of finding common ground?…

I can think of three types of liberals who agree that terrorism is the fundamental national security issue of our time – but who deeply disagree with the Bush approach to the problem. (1) Some liberals think that terrorism is the big threat but argue that the sources of terrorism are not directly related to despotism in the Middle East or even really situated in that region. We should be worrying about alienated cultural-religious groups in Europe (and Canada) and not developments in Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Iran. (2) Other liberals think that terrorism is the big threat but that doing what the Bush administration is doing in Iraq and elsewhere is actually making the problem worse. In effect, we need to get out of the Middle East and reduce our “footprint” in the region, while we need to also push much harder for a settlement of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis. (3) Still other liberals think that terrorism is the big issue but argue that the solutions run in the direction of much more ambitious and intrusive international monitoring, enforcement, and regulatory mechanisms – in effect, it requires a revolution is arms control, disarmament, and WMD technological inspection regimes.

The final group of skeptics actually get off the bus first. (4) They don’t think that terrorism is actually the preeminent threat facing America. It is a problem but the danger is that an obsession with this threat makes it more likely we will miss other looming threats and challenges. The challenge for American national security is to “end” the war on terrorism and rethink threats, opportunities, principles and strategies.

Pakistan Objects to Tharoor’s Candidacy for UN Secretary-General

As the sort of quiet campaign for Kofi Annan’s successor heats up, a look at the fight in store for one potential UN Secretary-General, the writer, poet and novelist Shashi Tharoor.

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Pakistan has indicated that it is likely to challenge the Indian nominee for the UN Secretary General post Shashi Tharoor and said it believes that his candidature showed New Delhi giving up its bid for a permanent seat in the Security Council, a claim rejected by India.

Islamabad believes that New Delhi fielding a candidate for the post of UN Secretary-General clearly indicates that it has given up its bid for a permanent seat in the Security Council for lack of support, its Ambassador Munir Akram told reporters after India announced Tharoor’s nomination for the post.

It is a tradition that permanent members of UNSC or countries aspiring to be its permanent members do not field candidates for the post of UN Secretary General, he said, adding he did not know India’s mind but this was the view of the diplomatic community here.

Rethinking Daleks, Cybermen and Doctor Who

In the LRB, Jenny Turner reviews the new Doctor Who.

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Halfway through the second series of new-century Doctor Who, and it’s looking dicey. The problem became clear to me in episode five, ‘Rise of the Cybermen’, as the relaunched 1970s arch-villains stamped in their silver moon-boots across the stately home’s front lawn. Fundamentally, they just aren’t Daleks, are they? The first series, the one that was on last year, had Daleks, hordes of them, and what a delight they were: gliding like priests, talking like Nazis, chimerical yet simple, and with that unpleasantly ambiguous relation to the ground beneath them. I wasn’t aware I had missed them until, suddenly, they were back. And back, too, was that sound made when the Doctor is arriving or departing, the scraping, groaning contractions of the Tardis – so wonderful, warm yet terrifying, the sound of childbirth, I always think, as heard by the baby.

When I was young, though – I dimly remember – the Cybermen did seem quite scary, with their blank, square faces and cruel, insatiable appetites for human whatever-it-was. But actually, most of that mystery came not from their appearance, but from their name. Back then, no one really knew what ‘cyber’ meant, though we sensed a sinister power: it was always clear that it meant something geared at some point to take over. This sense of awful potency lasted pretty much through the 1980s, powering the gorgeous prescience and horror of William Gibson’s Neuromancer novels, only to peter out, pretty much, by the mid-1990s, as the dull commercial reality – the real ‘consensual hallucination’, to repurpose Gibson’s phrase – of internet shopping kicked in. There was also, after 1977, the Star Wars problem, and the visual similarity of the Doctor’s second-best adversaries to C3PO, the trite butler-robot. Which is why Cybermen no longer impress us. The metaphorical connections no longer lead adults, at least, to things we find exciting – unlike priests, Nazis, our shabby 1960s and 1970s childhoods. Or so it might appear.

Marcotte on Hitchens on American Culture, Sort Of

The otherwise sexually magnetic Christopher Hitchens has a bizarre piece in Vanity Fair on how the fellatio is the most American of sex acts. It’s all disturbing, but Amanda Marcotte at Pandagon has a funny dissection of it. (via Majikthise)

Throughout the essay, he makes it clear that he finds women to be contemptous and gay men to be below contempt, and he has the nerve to wonder why “it sucks” is an insult. Possibly for the same reason “cock-sucker” is, cock-sucker.

For many a straight man, life’s long tragedy is first disclosed in early youth, when he discovers that he cannot perform this simple suction on himself. (In his stand-up routines, Bill Hicks used to speak often and movingly of this dilemma.)

The reason for Hitchens’ peculiar hunch becomes all too clear now.

The rest of the essay is more of the same—a pseudo-cheeky, secretly maudlin paean to the growing social acceptance of fellatio, which Hitchens chooses to interpret as American women finally coming down off the high horse and falling on their knees with gay men, where god intended them to grovel in front of straight men. I really hate having oral sex, which should just be a fun way to pass the time, mistreated like this. But there is one really weird passage I have to share.

As one who was stretched on the grim rack of British “National Health” practice, with its gray-and-yellow fangs, its steely-wire “braces,” its dark and crumbly fillings, and its shriveled and bleeding gums, I can remember barely daring to smile when I first set foot in the New World. Whereas when any sweet American girl smiled at me, I was at once bewitched and slain by the warm, moist cave of her mouth, lined with faultless white teeth and immaculate pink gums and organized around a tenderly coiled yet innocent tongue.

Perry Anderson and the End of French History

Dick Howard responds to Perry Anderson’s interpretations of recent French history (here and here), in Democratiya.

[Anderson’s] story really begins with May 1968, which is said to have opened radical possibilities that remained present until the rupture, before the 1978 parliamentary elections, of the Common Program that had united the socialist and communist parties. A period of political decomposition followed, during which a new hegemonic intellectual-cum-ideological program developed. However, though the ideology of economic liberalism dominated political debate, every government that tried to impose it, left and right, was defeated in the next election. The political class was discredited and the only decent newspaper had become a rag. Underneath the new ideology, Marx’s revolutionary ‘old Mole’ was digging. Le Monde Diplomatique, and its political incarnation, Attac, would come to represent an anti-globalist counter-force.

Anderson is not Vivianne Forrestier, nor even Pierre Bourdieu, whose popular books denounced the moral evils of the globalised economy. For Anderson, France incarnates a political culture that is more open to the world of literature and cinema than any other. And thus, while the neo-liberal offensive has weakened the foundations of the old revolutionary culture, the ‘relève’ is germinating. What Raymond Aron called the still dangerous ‘peuple, apparemment tranquille’ is not, in Anderson’s schema, a savage force of recalcitrance (as Aron feared); rather, it has inherited that higher cultural goal traditionally identified with France’s democratic republic.

I like this story; it’s familiar and comforting, giving hope at a time that needs it. But Anderson criticises his enemies without challenging the assumptions of his friends. His radicalism becomes unintentionally conservative because his syncretism permits him to avoid self-doubt.

a-haa! presents: the art of the storyboard

Invention17 “The ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive is presenting an exhibit devoted to the Art of the Storyboard throughout the months of June and July. Included in the exhibit are segments from the boards for the pilot episodes of The Yogi Bear Show, The Alvin Show and The Flintstones; as well as examples of the work of Warner Bros storymen, Warren Foster, John Dunn and Mike Maltese.”

more details and images can be found on A-HAA!’s (ASIFA-Hollywood Animation Archive) blog

‘I do still believe that men are to blame …’

Womensroomapple

From Guardian:

There was a time, not so long ago, when Marilyn French was considered one of the most dangerous women on the planet. Dubbed “The writer with an AK-47″ when her debut novel, The Women’s Room, was first published in 1977, the tough billing obviously appealed to readers: the book, probably the most overtly feminist novel of all time, sold 20m copies worldwide. French dramatised all the frustrations, rage and boredom of her generation of desperate housewives, crystallised in the character of Mira Ward: a submissive, suburban housewife who goes to Harvard post-divorce and discovers both female friendship and feminism.”God, how they attacked me in some quarters,” French says now. “And why? Because I told the truth. They said I was a man hater, and I never defended myself against that, because I do believe that men are to blame for the condition of women.” Still? “Yes. Even men who are not actively keeping women down, but are profiting from women’s position, or who don’t mind things being the way they are – they are responsible too. I don’t hate men. In fact, throughout my life I’ve always said I like men very much. But men are responsible for the situation of women.”

We are sitting in French’s living room, 48 floors above downtown Manhattan. Now 76, and frail after having oesophagal cancer, French is still razor-sharp. Her disposition is disarming though. From everything I had read, I was expecting a tough nut, but on the surface she is a warm, amiable matriarch.

More here.

‘Dada’ at MoMA: The Moment When Artists Took Over the Asylum

Dada

From The New York Times:

NOW is as good a time as any for a big museum to take another crack at Dada, which arose in the poisoned climate of World War I, when governments were lying, and soldiers were dying, and society looked like it was going bananas. Not unreasonably the Dadaists figured that art’s only sane option, in its impotence, was to go nuts too.

“Total pandemonium” was how the sculptor Hans Arp reported the situation in 1916 at the great Cabaret Voltaire in Zurich, where Dada was born. “Tzara is wiggling his behind like the belly of an Oriental dancer. Janco is playing an invisible violin and bowing and scraping. Madame Hennings, with a Madonna face, is doing the splits. Huelsenbeck is banging away nonstop on the great drum, with Ball accompanying him on the piano, pale as a chalky ghost.”

I’m sure you had to be there.

The Dada show, opening Sunday at the Museum of Modern Art, is pretty much an official survey (an oxymoron), and, this being MoMA, nearly all 450 or so objects in it look elegant, which they were certainly never intended to look. Interpret that as you will. The buttoned-down museum, which in many ways seems to have lost its bearings, returns to its roots.

More here.

Loyalties: A successful Israeli Arab doctor discovers his wife is a terrorist

From The Washington Post:Book_9

Arab citizens of Israel have been on the receiving end of government discrimination with regard to funding for social programs, and they still find themselves in the most awkward of social situations in a Jewish state. For the most part, Israeli Arabs do not serve in the country’s most important institution, the army, and — like Catholics in Northern Ireland some 30 years ago — feel themselves very much to be second-class citizens, often regarded with suspicion if not outright hostility.

Yasmina Khadra (the female pseudonym of the male former Algerian army officer Mohammed Moulessehoul), author of The Swallows of Kabul , has written a brave new novel that tries to get to the heart of the Israeli Arab predicament by setting up a situation in extremis. Amin Jaafari is a successful surgeon in a major Tel Aviv hospital, a kind of poster boy for the integration of Israel’s Arab citizens into the mainstream. Thus it comes as an enormous shock when his thoroughly Westernized and wealthy wife, Sihem, blows herself up in a local restaurant, killing herself along with a number of men, women and children. In an irresistible and dark irony, Jaafari operates on some of the surviving victims (one of whom doesn’t want to be touched by an Arab surgeon) before discovering that Sihem was the suicide bomber.

More here.

Stephen Hawking touches on God and science

From MSNBC:Hawking_hmed_9a

World-renowned astrophysicist Stephen Hawking said Thursday that the late Pope John Paul II once told scientists they should not study the beginning of the universe because it was the work of God. Hawking, author of the best-seller “A Brief History of Time,” said John Paul made the comments at a cosmology conference at the Vatican. He did not say when the meeting was held.

Hawking quoted the pope as saying, “It’s OK to study the universe and where it began. But we should not inquire into the beginning itself because that was the moment of creation and the work of God.” The scientist then joked that he was glad John Paul did not realize that he had presented a paper at the conference suggesting how the universe began. “I didn’t fancy the thought of being handed over to the Inquisition like Galileo,” Hawking said during a sold-out audience at Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

More here.

On America and the World

In The Nation, David Rieff reviews two new books on America’s role in the world, Elizabeth Borgwardt’s A New Deal for the World and Michael Mandelbaum’s The Case for Goliath.

To emphasize the essential continuities in American perceptions of the United States’ role in the world is not to deny that there are differences between the liberal and conservative versions of the creed. For the Bush Administration, American leadership is a self-evident moral right. In contrast, liberals have tended to be more concerned with the benefits of reciprocity between the United States and other nations. But again, when all is said and done, both sides share the conviction that America has a special mission based on the universality of its values. Thus, one gets George Bush’s self-described “moral clarity” about America’s indispensable role in the world as guarantor and propagator of democracy on one side and on the other the liberal view, implicit in Borgwardt’s book and more explicitly elaborated in Samantha Power’s “A Problem From Hell”, that when all is said and done the United States could and should be the guarantor of an international order based on human rights. Talk about the narcissism of small differences!

Anyone wanting a sense of how pervasive this attitude is among Democratic Party policy analysts need only go to blogs like America Abroad or Democracy Arsenal, where the views of senior Clinton Administration officials like Ivo Daalder, James Steinberg and Morton Halperin, as well as figures touted for senior positions in a future Democratic administration–like Anne-Marie Slaughter, currently dean of the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs at Princeton–are open for inspection. The fact that a website purporting to represent a critique of the current Administration’s foreign policy could be called Democracy Arsenal is itself illustrative. Obviously, those doing the naming were as enthralled by the memory of FDR as Borgwardt is, and meant to hark back to the days of World War II when America was just that. But the sheer parochialism of such a choice, not to mention the easy assumption about the intrinsic benignity of American power, takes one’s breath away. Such a reference may seem anodyne in today’s Washington. But did Halperin and his colleagues never stop to wonder how menacing that phrase might sound in New Delhi, or Johannesburg, or Jakarta, or Tehran… or London, Paris and Berlin for that matter? Surely, had they done so, they would have picked another name. Or perhaps not. Perhaps the power of American belief in American exceptionalism is now so deep-rooted in mainstream political thinking as to pass unnoticed and unexamined, like some geological fact.

The Ethics of Human and Animal Enhancement

In the very libertarian ReasonOnline, Ronald Bailey reports on the discussions of genetic enhancements at the Human Enhancement Technologies and Human Rights (HETHR) conference at Stanford University’s Law School.

The HETHR conference was not devoted to just defining and defending human and posthuman rights—some visionary and, some might say, really eccentric proposals were also on offer. For example, George Dvorsky, deputy editor of Betterhumans, argued that using biotech to enhance just human consciousness is not enough—humanity has the moral responsibility to use biotech to lift the veil of brute ignorance from the animals. “It would be negligent of us to leave animals behind to fend for themselves in the state of nature,” declared Dvorsky.

In uplifting animals, Dvorsky explained, we must avoid creating subhumans. Specifically we must not use biotech to create happy slaves, creatures with constrained or predetermined psychologies, or beings to be used for demeaning or dangerous work. His project is reminiscent of sci-fi novelist David Brin’s The Uplift Wars in which throughout the galaxies one sapient species after another uses genetic engineering to uplift non-sapient species to sapiency. In Brin’s books, humanity uplifts dolphins and chimps. In his talk Dvorsky was pretty catholic in wanting to spread sapiency around, even suggesting that cows might be uplifted if we gave them hands.

The Unbinding, a Serialized Novel

In a sort of return to yesteryear, Slate serializes a novel.

…a new serial novel, The Unbinding, by award-winning novelist Walter Kirn, exclusively on Slate. Installments of the novel will appear in Slate roughly twice a week from March through June. Don’t worry if you’ve joined in late; previous installments are available inside, and it’s easy to catch up. We hope you enjoy The Unbinding…”

Sex In On-Line Worlds

In New Scientist, a look at sex in perpetual online worlds, especially on Second Life, and what it means for romantic and sexual interaction in this one.

Second Life may be throbbing with sexual activity, but it’s not easy to enter the sex communities. To begin with, customising a beginner-level avatar into a sexual being is difficult and expensive: genitalia, outfits, more realistic skin and hair, and sexual moves all cost extra unless you can program them for yourself. “You have to be pretty savvy to create a realistic-looking avatar,” says Kandora. “Not all users have the time, patience and talent for that.”

And though you can buy or make the body, the clothes, the grooming and the know-how, you still have to find a willing partner. Second Life’s sex rooms can be difficult to find without a guide, and even if you did stumble upon one, the community might not accept a stranger immediately. “It would be considered offensive to just show up,” says Brathwaite. As a result, the sex communities within Second Life have remained relatively small.

But now, games developers are teaming up with the pornography industry to open up cybersex to the masses. The collaboration has led to the first generation of erotic multiplayer online games: Red Light Center, released in May, and Naughty America, due to be released this summer.